In October 2019, Patrick Taylor drove home to Cooper, Texas, in rural Delta County after visiting a friend one night. The 37-year-old Black man parked in his driveway and was about to enter his home when, he said, Zachary Williamson appeared.
According to Taylor, Williamson—a white, 16-year veteran police officer who has bounced around nine small North Texas law-enforcement agencies—represented himself as a member of the Delta County Sheriff’s Office and shouted at Taylor, “Why did you run from me?”
Taylor told The Daily Beast he was confused, because he didn’t notice Williamson following him, and never saw Williamson flash police lights. Then, in a matter of moments, he claims in a lawsuit filed in federal court obtained by The Daily Beast, Williamson grabbed him, put him in a shoulder lock, and slammed him to the ground.
While Williamson waited for another deputy to arrive, Taylor alleged in his suit, Williamson placed him in a chokehold. “It was mind-boggling to me,” Taylor said.
Williamson did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Taylor was soon arrested for driving while intoxicated, according to the suit, but he alleges that the arrest was based on Williamson’s “personal observations,” insisting that a breathalyzer or blood alcohol test was never performed. Incident reports were not produced by the Delta County Sheriff’s Office, which did not respond to multiple requests for comment prior to publication of this story. Taylor declined to discuss whether he’d been under the influence that night; when asked about a prior driving under the influence conviction in 2011, he said, “That’s a thing in my past.”
But it’s what happened next that makes Taylor’s story so unreal.
After the encounter with Williamson, Taylor was taken to the Delta County Jail. Over the next year, Taylor said, he lost his job, saw his family lose their home, and was sent to a court-ordered rehab center before his charges were finally dismissed in August. It was then, he said, that he learned that at the time of the arrest, Williamson was not certified to be a peace officer—a fact that he and his attorney claim was covered up by local officials including County Judge Jason Murray, County Attorney Jay Garrett, and former County Sheriff Ricky Smith.
In other words, according to Taylor—and two officials his lawsuit cites as having given statements at least partly backing up his account—he found out the cop who purported to bust him was uncertified, and the entire system came crashing down to cover its tracks. Experts described the saga as the sort of uniquely brazen episode that could fuel distrust in the criminal justice system—particularly in sparsely populated rural areas like Delta County.
“This only increases the cynicism of society against law enforcement,” Kalfani Ture, professor of sociology and criminal justice at Mount Saint Mary’s University and a former police officer in Georgia, told The Daily Beast.
Murray, the county judge, did not respond to a request for comment. Garrett, the county attorney, and Smith, the former sheriff who was replaced in a 2020 election, declined to comment when reached by The Daily Beast.
The current sheriff of Delta County, Charla Singleton, whose office is also named in the suit, likewise did not respond to a request for comment.
According to the lawsuit Taylor filed this month, in October 2019, while he was still in jail, Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Archie Crittenden learned Williamson—who the suit claims had been hired by the Delta County Sheriff’s Office in September 2019—did not have an active Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) peace officer certification. This meant all the arrests he’d made, including Taylor’s, were illegitimate and should be dismissed, Crittenden argued.
“I was extremely concerned that Officer Williamson was allowed by Delta County to continue to arrest members of the public and issue citations,” Crittenden wrote in a declaration as part of the lawsuit.
The Crittenden declaration explains that he learned about the lapsed certification because he regularly works with local police departments, including the Delta County Sheriff’s Office. He did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
That November, Crittenden and Delta County Justice of the Peace Shannon McCulloch—who also became aware of Williamson’s lapsed certification and Taylor’s incarceration—brought the issue to Murray, Garrett, and former Sheriff Smith to be resolved, Taylor’s suit says.
But the lawsuit alleges all three officials “conspired together” to “cover up” the negligent hiring of Williamson and his allegedly unlawful arrests and citations of more than 40 people—all the while allowing Taylor to languish in custody and, later, a court-ordered rehab center.
“Justice needs to be done for the whole way they all conspired against me knowing they were in the wrong the whole time,” Taylor told The Daily Beast. “That’s literally taking the law in your own hands. It’s not the Wild, Wild West anymore.”
Gretchen Grigsby, the director of government relations for the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE), the state regulatory agency for all law-enforcement officers in Texas, provided a record of Williamson’s certification history that showed it was inactive between Sept. 1, 2019, and Nov. 6, 2019. While The Daily Beast could not obtain police records in connection with Taylor’s arrest, a declaration from a Justice of the Peace clerk included in the suit indicates it took place when Williamson was uncertified.
During this period, Williamson was employed by the Delta County Sheriff’s Office and issued fines to citizens as early as Oct. 3, 2019, according to copies of citations obtained by The Daily Beast. This despite the fact that Williamson’s official employment transcript shows him starting with the Delta County Sheriff’s Office on Nov. 8, 2019.
Grigsby said Williamson’s inactive status was due to him not completing a training course on new federal laws before getting hired. According to TCOLE rules, Grigsby said, the commission can fine law-enforcement agencies up to $1,000 a day for employing officers without an active certification, something she said the commission has “fairly broad discretion” to determine.
She did not comment on whether the Delta County Sheriff’s Office had ever been fined for Williamson’s lapsed certification or for the discrepancy in his official work history.
Not that Williamson stuck around very long: He left the Delta County Sheriff’s Office in February 2020, according to TCOLE records, and joined the Bonham Police Department in Bonham, Texas, in March 2020.
The Bonham Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Jay Ellwanger, an attorney who represented Taylor through his criminal charges before they were dismissed and now represents Taylor in his lawsuit, told The Daily Beast the alleged cover-up cost people like Taylor their freedom and also shakes the foundation of the justice system. “That’s not supposed to happen in this country.”
Outside experts were equally disturbed by the allegations.
Ture, the ex-Georgia cop and professor, told The Daily Beast the case highlights a “major trust issue.”
He said it would have been relatively easy to vacate the arrest of Taylor, return any money paid for citations issued by Williamson, and take ownership of what he said was a significant, but not devastating, oversight by the Delta County Sheriff’s Office when they first hired Williamson.
The alleged decision to double down and keep someone like Taylor hanging in the balance creates bigger headaches, Ture argued.
Taylor’s lawsuit alleges that after Trooper Crittenden and Justice of the Peace McCulloch brought up Williamson’s inactive certification in the fall of 2019, they were ignored by the county attorney, judge, and sheriff at the time.
McCulloch declined to comment in detail for this story, citing Taylor’s lawsuit. But she said her court follows “the law” and does their “due diligence” to “resolve any issues that come through our office, lawfully, respectfully, and timely without bias.”
In a declaration as part of the lawsuit, Ty Wady, a clerk in McCulloch’s office, said that when she spoke to former Sheriff Smith about Williamson’s allegedly unlawful arrests and citations, he told her to “ignore it” and “cover-up” the issue. She said in her declaration that Smith placed Williamson on desk duty in November 2019 and altered his employment records to aid the alleged cover-up. All the while, she continued, he was adamant about not dismissing any fines to people cited by Williamson or charges to those he arrested.
“Let them pay,” Wady said Smith told her, adding that open cases should only be dismissed if anyone disputed them.
According to the Wady declaration, McCulloch contacted County Prosecutor Garrett about Taylor’s detention in jail on Nov. 4, 2019. Wady said Garrett justified Taylor’s arrest and compared it to a “citizen’s arrest,” and dismissed the concerns that Williamson was wearing a Delta County Sheriff’s Office uniform when he “tackled” Taylor during the allegedly “unlawful arrest.”
On Nov. 5, 2019, the Wady declaration says, the Justice of the Peace Office went against the wishes of the sheriff and prosecutor and dismissed all cases and citations made by Williamson that were still open. It is unclear, however, if the $6,700 in fines collected from citizens were ever returned.
But cases like Taylor’s, for which arrests had already been made, could not be dismissed by their office, according to Ellwanger.
Wady did not respond to a request for comment.
On the same day the other cases were dismissed, Taylor—who did not yet have an attorney—said he was taken to a “special court date” where he was told by Garrett that if he agreed to go to a court-ordered rehab for a year, the prosecutor would “make all this go away,” referring to his case. Taylor said the option was presented to him as a deal.
“I was sent off the same day,” he said.
Taylor said he was at the rehab center from November 2019 to February 2020. He lost his job and said his wife and five children were forced to leave their home: “It was a horrible experience.”
Ellwanger said that Delta County brought back charges against Taylor because he left the rehab center before the terms of his previous agreement. In April 2020, Ellwanger said, he was retained by Taylor to get the charges formally dismissed.
It was during this process that Ellwanger and Taylor said they finally learned about Williamson’s lapsed certification and the fact that his whole ordeal could have been avoided. According to the suit, at the hearing to dismiss Taylor’s charges in August, Garrett, the county attorney, allegedly told Taylor, in reference to Williamson’s certification issue, that he was “lucky to have such a good attorney, because most lawyers probably wouldn’t have found it.”
“It took away from me, my family, and things we could have got done and had,” Taylor told The Daily Beast of his ordeal. “It’s just not right. It’s just not right at all.”
Before his arrest in October 2019, Taylor said, he’d never had any interactions with Williamson. But after learning more about the officer, he realized he wasn’t the first person to be concerned with his style of policing.
In April 2018, Williamson, then a police officer with the Honey Grove Police Department, another small operation in North Texas, shot John Earl Mackey in his driveway after attempting a traffic stop, the Herald Democrat reported at the time. Mackey was arrested and charged with aggravated assault on a public servant. The charges were later dropped.
In a lawsuit he filed against Williamson in April 2020, Mackey said Williamson followed him home, rolled down his window, and told Mackey to exit his car without telling him why he was being stopped. “Get out of the car, you’re going to jail,” the cop allegedly said.
According to the suit, when Mackey asked why he was pulled over, Williamson told him that Mackey had falsified tags. The suit alleges Williamson then used a “racial slur” and held up the taser and asked Mackey if he knew what being tased felt like. After being tased, Mackey got into his car and honked his horn for attention, the suit claims. In a subsequent struggle with Williamson, the officer allegedly shot him in the leg.
The City of Honey Grove did not respond to a request for comment.
In a motion to dismiss Mackey’s suit, the city said Mackey was a “large man who refused officer commands” and was “unaffected” by being tased. They also claimed Mackey reached for Williamson’s gun during the encounter. “Out of self-defense and desperation” and “several warnings,” the city argued, Williamson shot Mackey with a second, back-up pistol.
Court records show the case was settled by November 2020. In December 2020, Mackey, 55, died from lung cancer, his wife Teena Dickinson, told The Daily Beast.
Dickinson said she witnessed parts of the struggle between Mackey and Williamson the day he was shot. She also alleged Williamson called Mackey the “n-word” many times during the incident. After the shooting, Dickinson said, she’d heard from others in the area about Williamson and his exploits in Honey Grove and other departments.
“The guy has a lot of history,” she said of Williamson. “You can say his name and everybody has something to say that he did.”
Despite the accusations, when The Daily Beast reached out to Williamson’s previous law-enforcement employers, those who responded only indicated that he’d resigned.
Leigh Dixon, the current police chief of the Honey Grove Police Department, said Williamson was not being investigated for any misconduct at the time of his departure. But he did say Williamson’s file was marked as “ineligible for rehire.”
Paul Robeson, the Whitehouse Police Department Chief, said he was not working in the department when Williamson was there from December 2008 to April 2010. He told The Daily Beast he didn’t know anything about Williamson, but that his history of jumping around departments for short stints was a “red flag” that might give any employer pause.
“Somebody that hops around, it’s very unlikely that I’m going to hire them,” he said. “Usually it’s a sign of personal problems or something else going on.”
For his part, Taylor said he moved away from Delta County after his ordeal with Williamson and county officials.
He said he’s got a new job and has been able to straighten out his life. But he still feels like no one has been held accountable for what happened to him. He’s also worried about others who live in the county.
“You have a corrupt system over there,” he said, “They’re just doing whatever they want to. They’re not going by the oath that they took.”